As gambling goes digital, how will it bridge the experience gap?


December 14, 2021

Originally published on eGaming Review

The US is seeing a rush of online gambling and sports betting legalization. But as audiences start to explore digital brands in the space, are apps the only way to build loyalty?

When you really think about it, the gambling experience has been largely defined by its restrictions. Traditionally, legal betting only happened at specific locations – casinos, race tracks and OTBs – in the states that allowed it. States had been reluctant to legalize it since, with the exception of a few upscale locales, many of the communities where gambling thrived became a little rundown.

That all changed when technology made it possible to bet on anything, anywhere. Not only did online and app-based betting sidestep concerns about the corrupting influence of betting venues, it made widespread sports betting legalization an attractive revenue driver for states that have been running deficits. The tax revenue from online gambling can reach the billions, without many of gambling’s seedy effects.

Technology has made gambling more popular and widespread than ever before. But the trade-off has been a loss of gambling’s unique experience.

The loyalty limits of app-based gambling

Many of the most popular betting apps have roughly the same UX experience, and for good reason. They are trying to optimize user behaviors, using a combination of digital tactics to drive engagement – new customer offers or specials for returning bettors, the ability to stream games in-app, and options for betting education. All these parts of a digital betting experience keep players closer to the action and more likely to place a bet. But while these incentives for new and existing users are great for initial play, once you move past that, how can you create loyalty?

The gaming business has long been a leader in player retention. All of the large casinos have loyalty programs where you can unlock exclusive experiences, receive free/discounted travel, and earn status by spending money with the casino. The gaming apps should take the same approach as a way to begin focusing consumers on the advantages of loyalty. It is no different than gathering hotel points or airline miles.

Experiential is the perfect way to go for creating loyalty among the apps. Giving your most valued customers exclusive live experiences will generate more goodwill than any other reward. If you give people the chance to experience something exclusive, maybe even with a spouse or friend, it will create a buzz of goodwill that spreads organically, driving some consumers towards brand advocacy and others towards loyalty.

Bridging the emotional experience gap

While this hybrid experiential model for betting may seem obvious, the truth is you don’t see very much of it in the marketplace. Sure, some have offered occasional appearances by a sponsored athlete, but not a true loyalty program specically for the app-based brands, separate from the large casinos. Yet it’s these types of connections that will drive growth and differentiation in a rapidly growing market.

For an industry about to give birth to countless betting app copycats, experiential will become ‘the’ point of difference, especially as they look to compete with casinos. It’s their ability to be ambitious, creative, and customized that gives app brands an advantage over casinos. Aer all, how can casinos, anchored by an age- old model, offer an experience that people really care about? It isn’t dissimilar to how banks customize their credit-card offerings to align with consumers’ passions – having a card that offers travel enthusiasts trips and excursions is a proven way to attract and retain those customers. It is all about the emotional connection and convincing a consumer that an app is the only one for them.

In the face of the digitalization of gambling and its acceptance by states, every app should be trying to create an emotional connection between the consumer and their brand. For those that can turn experience into the central focus of their online betting brands, they’ll discover the massive advantage and loyalty that branded experiences can provide.


Rick Kiley is founding partner of Soho Experiential – an industry leader in the creation and implementation of innovative experiential marketing campaigns. The firm delivers social currency through thoughtfully crafted brand experiences for clients and partners across wine and spirits, hospitality, tech, gambling and more.

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